By Tommy Hough
Earlier today I made remarks to the San Diego County Board of Supervisors regarding Sheriff Bill Gore's request to pursue potential bids for outsourced mental health and basic medical care services to inmates in the county's seven jails.
Ultimately, the board voted 4-1 in support of the sheriff's request, thereby beginning a process in which the sheriff's department may explore bids from private contractors – despite the fact some 300 county employees already work as nurses, clinicians, and other health professionals in the jail system, and could lose their jobs as a result.
As Jeff McDonald reported in the San Diego Union-Tribune, dozens "testified during the hearing that workplace morale is poor, largely due to a perception that Gore does not value their work," but ultimately the board's Republican majority "denied Supervisor Nathan Fletcher's plan to flatly reject the sheriff's proposed outsourcing model."
My remarks today before the Board of Supervisors follow:
Good morning, my name is Tommy Hough, I live in Mira Mesa, county district three.
I'd like to ask you to vote no on this item.
It's disappointing to hear this pathological persistence on the part of some in government to outsource what, in my mind, are the most basic services that are already being capably handled by county employees. The answer is not outsourcing. The answer is getting these dedicated and able employees the support and resources they need to effectively do their jobs for the public and those incarcerated – not for shareholders.
We're not talking about who fills the vending machine, we're talking about who supplies, and who makes, mental health services and life and death decisions.
There's already been a great deal of scrutiny as to what's called the Private Prison Industry, and there should be. The idea that any entity, especially a multi-billion dollar business, is making money, hand over fist, in this nation on the incarceration of other human beings – and in the case of the sheriff’s department, individuals often awaiting trial – is not consistent with what we believe our nation's values to be, or our county's.
Incarcerated individuals and those awaiting trial must have a meaningful level of care. My neighbors deserve to keep their jobs with the county serving their neighbors in the Sheriff's Department – and for-profit companies must never run prisons or jail services.
Please vote NO on the sheriff's proposal to outsource and privatize these critical services.
Photo courtesy of the San Diego County Sheriff's Department
By Trip Jennings
Federal agents shot me in the face last night while I was covering the Black Lives Matter protests in Portland. It should be obvious to everyone by now that black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) face a higher risk of violence at the hands of police than I do. I'll never know what it's like not to be white, but protests do provide an interesting moment for white people when our privilege doesn't protect us.
Friends feel free to share. Media, do not repost without permission.
To everyone who believes that the only people who get hurt at protests are those who have been violent, that's wrong. To those who think it is only "other people" not like you, that is also wrong. I am a professional journalist, a father-to-be, I run a business, I create jobs for other people. I'm a landlord, a neighbor, a friend, and I want to live in a world where black people and all BIPOC feel the freedom I normally do. I hope to help by telling stories and bearing witness.
On the night of Saturday, July 25, I was shooting photos from the center of the crowd when federal agents suddenly became more aggressive, firing lots of tear gas and impact munitions into a large group of people.
I retreated with the group, stumbling through Chapman Square and across the street in clouds of tear gas. When I reached 4th Ave. and got out of the thickest tear gas, I stopped to figure out my next step. A line of federal agents (and possibly PPB) walked through the tear gas cloud on Salmon St. toward the very dispersed group of people around me. We quickly walked away on Salmon, following dispersal orders.
Then, there was a sudden barrage of impact munitions fired around me. I ducked behind a car. Protesters in the street were positioned behind shields being pelted with pepper balls, foam balls, and maybe some sort of paintball and/or rubber bullets. I captured a few images and waited. Once the shooting stopped, I used the moment to try and get a safe distance from the advancing federal agents. I walked swiftly, hands and camera in the air, ducked behind a tree some distance down the block, and turned to see if I was far enough away to be safe.
As I turned, I was pelted with what I think were pepper balls. One hit the lens of my gas mask on my left eye. The plastic broke, lacerating my eye, eyelid, and cheek. I knelt down to assess and when I realized I could walk and see, I ran to 5th Ave. and began asking folks to help me find a medic. Shortly, three medics responded. I took my gas mask and helmet off and one said, "Oh my God, that's bad." I cannot say enough good things about these medics. I am beyond grateful for their work, but that reaction wasn't my favorite part.
In a moment we were in their car on our way to the hospital. Unfortunately, the car was facing downhill toward the troops. They had advanced and we had to pull forward to leave the street parking. In a moment they were surrounding the car, pointing flashlights and guns at us. I pressed my face close to the window, pointed to my now very bloody face, and yelled "hospital." The medics slowly backed up as the feds shot the vehicle with more impact munitions. No windows were broken. On the way to the hospital, we drove through clouds of tear gas so the windows stayed shut and the pepper spray on my clothing and bag choked us all.
In urgent care, the doctor left the room multiple times as the pepper on me caused her to cough uncontrollably. She wore a respirator to stitch my eye. As I left the hospital near sunrise, another protester was being admitted with the same injury.
I have the option of going to a protest and putting myself at risk of police violence. Or I can choose to stay out of harm's way. For black Americans, there is no opting out of the risk of police violence in everyday life. This was incredibly scary and stressful for my wife and I, but we know we only have to experience this once in a while, and when we do it's often by choice. Many people in our community live with this fear every day. This has to stop, and we have to make this change. Black Lives Matter.
Trip Jennings is a producer and videographer with Balance Media and National Geographic. He and his wife live in Portland.
By Tommy Hough
With the naked display of state-sponsored fascism on the streets of Portland as the Department of Homeland Security wages a terror campaign against the citizens of an American city, and the threatened deployment of federal paramilitaries throughout the U.S. by President Trump and the unprecedented step it brings toward police state authoritarianism, consider Martin Niemöller's cautionary poem "First They Came," written in 1946 following the defeat of Nazi Germany and the end of World War II.
A theologian, pastor, and opponent of the Nazi regime, Niemöller led an influential Lutheran congregation in the Berlin suburbs at the time the Nazis came to power, and wrote his poem about the cowardice of German intellectuals and his fellow clergymen during the rise of the Third Reich, and the regime's incremental undoing of the rule of law, especially after the violence and summary executions of the Night of the Long Knives in 1934, and the implementation of the racist Nuremberg Laws in 1935, which robbed German Jews of all aspects of citizenship and civil rights. We know what followed.
Niemöller was first arrested by the Nazi regime in 1937, and was a tried by a "special," i.e. kangaroo court for crimes against the Reich. While the court eventually released him due to the number of months he'd already been in jail, Hitler's deputy Rudolf Hess had him seized by the Gestapo immediately afterwards, and he was imprisoned in Sachsenhausen and later Dachau concentration camps until the end of the war in 1945.
Since Niemöller wasn't formally arrested, as he had been before, there was no recourse to his seizure. There was no due process either, despite the fact Niemöller was a lawful citizen. He was simply snatched away extrajudicially and detained, without a trace. The Nazis called this "night and fog."
After a trial run on the streets of San Diego in June, that exact same behavior is now being applied by federal paramilitaries in Portland, and the administration freely admits this model will soon be applied in other cities.
This administration is taking hostages with little legal recourse, and making examples of "disloyal," almost entirely Democratic-run cities. In this manner, the administration may bargain their way into concessions for the November election in a protracted and deliberately exhausting legal procedure. In Trump's mind, this is the art of the deal.
We are facing our greatest constitutional crisis since the Civil War, which ended 155 years ago in 1865, but never really ended. It takes demagogues like Trump to follow the examples of despotic regimes and his own inner toxicity to use our nation's faultlines and divisions as a means of enhancing his power, rather than working to bring our nation together the way a normal, responsible human would be inclined to do.
But should Trump lose the November election, or otherwise be removed from power, he's well aware he will no longer be protected by a cloak of presidential power. He, his family, and many of his subordinates will deservedly face trial and imprisonment on multiple fronts and charges. And given Trump's own words and the extraordinary machinations of state power already being given free rein, set against the backdrop of the deadliest pandemic our nation has faced in 100 years, there is no reason to expect the president won't use every despotic means available to remain in power, even as every authoritarian move he makes belies his own impotence and lack of real power.
So where are the Jade Helm conspiracy theorists now? Where are those who claim wearing a face mask is "tyranny?" Pay attention to those remaining silent at this moment of actual tyranny.
If you're unable to stand against the authoritarian tide being incited by a decadent executive branch, which isn't even pretending to take "incremental" steps anymore in dismantling 244 years of our democratic traditions as it attacks non-violent protesters, you may bear a resemblance to the narrator of "First They Came."
Because someday, perhaps sooner than you think, "they" may come for you, in the midst of night and fog. And who will stand for you then?
The original version of Niemöller's "First They Came" is:
First they came for the Communists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Communist
Then they came for the Socialists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Socialist
Then they came for the trade unionists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a trade unionist
Then they came for the Jews
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Jew
Then they came for me
And there was no one left
To speak out for me
Actor Rafael Casal wrote an updated version of the poem for the Trump era last year:
First they came for the immigrants
And I did not speak out
Because I was not an immigrant
Then they came for the children of immigrants
And I did not speak out
Because I am not a child of an immigrant
Then they came for the brown and black
And I did not speak out
Because I am neither brown nor black
Then they came for the politicians
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a politician
Then they came for me
And there was no one left
To speak for me.
By Maureen Healy
Since June, I have been attending peaceful protests in Portland neighborhoods in support of Black Lives Matter. I have gone with family and friends. I am a 52-year old mother, and a history professor at Louis and Clark College in Portland.
I went downtown yesterday to express my opinion as a citizen of the United States, and as a resident of Portland. Of Oregon. This is my home. I was protesting peacefully. So why did federal troops shoot me in the head Monday night?
I was in a large crowd of ordinary folks. Adults, teens, students. Moms and dads. It looked to me like a cross-section of the city. Black Lives Matter voices led the crowd on a peaceful march from the Justice Center past the murals at the Apple store. The marchers were singing songs. We were chanting. We were saying names of black people that have been killed by police. We observed a moment of silence in front of the George Floyd mural.
I wanted to, and will continue to, exercise my First Amendment right to speak. Federal troops have been sent to my city to extinguish these peaceful protests. I was not damaging federal property. I was in a crowd with at least a thousand other ordinary people. I was standing in a public space.
In addition to being a Portland resident, I am also a historian. My field is modern European history, with specialization in the history of Germany and Eastern Europe. I teach my students about the rise of fascism in Europe.
By professional training and long years of teaching, I am knowledgeable about the historical slide by which seemingly vibrant democracies succumbed to authoritarian rule. Militarized federal troops are shooting indiscriminately into crowds of ordinary people in our country. We are on that slide.
It dawned on me when I was in the emergency room and had a chance to catch my breath (post-tear gas): my government did this to me. My own government. I was not shot by a random person in the street. A federal law enforcement officer pulled a trigger that sent an impact munition into my head.
After being hit I was assisted greatly by several volunteer medics. At least one of them was with Rosehip Medic Collective. To take shelter from the tear gas I was hustled into a nearby van. Inside they bandaged my head and drove me several blocks away. From there my family took me to the emergency room. I am grateful for the assistance, skill, and incredibly kind care of these volunteer medics.
We must take this back to Black Lives Matter. Police brutality against black people is the real subject of these peaceful protests that have been happening in my city and across the country. What happened to me is nothing. It is nothing compared to what happens to black citizens at the hands of law enforcement, mostly local police, every day. And that is why we have been marching.
That is why I will continue to march.
Professor Maureen Healy is the chair of the history department at Lewis and Clark College in Portland. She was shot in the head by federal agents on the night of Monday, July 20, and is recovering from the injury and concussion. Thanks to Margie Boulé for sharing Professor Healy's story and statement.
Remarks Before the Environment Committee on Consideration of San Diego's Franchise Utility Agreement
By Tommy Hough
For the first time in 50 years, San Diego is renegotiating its franchise agreement with San Diego Gas and Electric (SDGE) in a decision that will have sweeping ramifications for our city, giving the powerful Sempra utility exclusive rights to use the city's public right-of-ways for transmission and distribution of electricity, along with the ability to install wires, poles, power lines, and underground gas and electric lines.
Originally signed in 1970, the 50-year franchise agreement comes to an end on Jan. 17, 2021, presenting San Diegans with an extraordinary opportunity to reboot and set new terms for our region's transition to a renewable energy future, including opportunities for a municipal energy provider.
As usual, I had more remarks prepared than time available, so here are the entirety of my planned remarks before the San Diego City Council Environment Committee:
Good afternoon, my name is Tommy Hough, from Mira Mesa.
I'd like to request this committee and council delay any kind of decision on a future franchise utility agreement until the public has had a meaningful opportunity to consider this matter, and for a public debate and discussion to occur before council again considers this.
So many things have changed over the last 50 years since the current agreement was implemented, an era in which no one thought twice about the use of coal, or coal-fired power plants to power our nation, and an era in which solar and renewable energy was still largely the realm of science fiction, even as manned missions were successfully landing and exploring the moon.
I'm not sure how or why anyone in 1970, at a moment when change and technological innovation was as rapid as the rate change we experience today, thought that 50 years was a reasonable length of time for a city of our size to be committed to one utility vendor, especially without having a full, public discussion over the benefits of a municipal, community-owned utility.
While SDGE engages in generous community philanthropy, has invested in an extraordinary power infrastructure in our corner of Southern California, and does a marvelous job keeping the lights on with a grid that we know needs to be updated, my neighbors and I pay some of the highest power rates not just in California, but in the continental U.S., in a locale where solar and renewables should be the most efficient and the most cost-effective.
Ultimately, SDGE's parent company, Sempra, is no friend to the ratepayer. They are the friend of stockholders paying top executives. Our city should have nothing to do with that kind of arrangement at citizen expense.
Indeed, Sempra has revealed itself on several occasions to be a rather poor community partner. Just recently it formed and deployed a lobbying arm that was dead set on stopping community choice energy even after the utility had pledged to move forward as a partner in the concept. In 2015, when SDGE was making its initial inroads into the San Diego County Democratic Party, a company representative attempted to shift "blame" for rate hikes on the poorest San Diegans away from SDGE and onto those who use solar and renewable energy in a shameful, shocking display of public gaslighting on the floor of a central committee meeting.
This city should not handcuff itself to this utility for any longer than five years at a time, so that we as a community may more fully consider the opportunities of a municipal provider that is answerable to We the People, not Wall Street, that will not leverage the kind of political influence Sempra and SDGE does now, and will not work at cross purposes with energy efficiency initiatives that threatens their bottom line.
Please delay a decision on this matter today.
By Tommy Hough
In a surprise move, the San Diego County Board of Supervisors has opted to reject the long-running Lilac Hills Ranch proposal. Called "unsafe" by Cal Fire San Diego Unit Chief Tony Mecham at today's hearing, and recommended for denial by county staff in a highly unusual move, Lilac Hills was one of our region's most persistent and durable "zombie projects."
Initially denied by county planners in 2009, and at the ballot box with the defeat of Measure B in 2016, Lilac Hills was a loser with the courts, voters, and fire safety professionals. Hopefully the cycle of approving reckless sprawl developments in fire-prone areas is, at last, reaching an end.
My remarks today before the Board of Supervisors follow:
My name is Tommy Hough, I live in Mira Mesa. I'm the V.P. for policy and former president of San Diego County Democrats for Environmental Action, and I support the staff recommendation to reject the Lilac Hills development.
In 2016 our organization was active in the effort to defeat what was then Measure B, which was the Lilac Hills ballot measure. As you may recall, it was soundly defeated, as residents throughout the county made it clear, as they did again with Newland Sierra on the primary ballot this March, that sprawl development must not be the future of this county, and is not the highest or best use of the rural areas and open space in our county.
We are not Riverside County, and this county should make it a point of pride to resist the temptation to throw open our wildlands, watersheds, and wildlife corridors to sprawl housing developers as has occurred there. If you take a trip north on the 215 to Perris and head east to Hemet, the signs along the road aren't placed by counties or municipalities, but by sprawl housing developers. You know their names. It's clear who holds sway there. It is not a future we should embrace here.
When I ran for San Diego City Council in 2018, I often spoke about our housing crisis, and cited areas within the district I was running in (District 6) where denser housing is a functional option that would require some tweaks to zoning laws, but would enable residents to live within our already-established urbanized footprint, near transit, and the abundant employment centers in our district in Sorrento Valley, Mira Mesa, and Kearny Mesa.
Furthermore, to claim that any of these homes or housing are truly affordable for average San Diegans, is a gross distortion. Unless we're talking about developer-subsidized, or government-subsidized housing, it will NOT be affordable for the majority of working San Diegans. And housing should not be predicated, anywhere, on the false premise that "affordable" housing at the level this area clearly needs can be achieved by setting aside a required percentage of homes that developers can simply buy their way out of. This is to say nothing of the wildfire danger, and significant greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) for new miles traveled to and from manufactured cities in our backcountry like that proposed with Lilac Hills.
It is no longer 1980, and the cycle of approving these reckless developments in fire-prone areas must end. Stop putting citizens in harm's way. There is nothing safe or responsible about this project. Please approve the motion and support the recommendations of staff and county fire in opposition to the Lilac Hills zombie project that was so soundly defeated when it was on the ballot four years ago.
By Tommy Hough
Maxim One: Everything that Trump comes in contact with, good or bad, innocent or guilty, dies an early death in reputation, career, conscience, or lifespan.
Maxim Two: If Trump touches or meddles with anything you love or cherish, like our environment or our democratic heritage or humanity in general, it too will die an early, ugly death (see maxim one).
Maxim Three: Donald Trump is President of the United States, and will continue to inflict maxims one and two on all of us until he is driven from office.
When Ryan Zinke, the most corrupt Secretary of the Interior of our modern era, moved to redraw the boundaries of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments in Utah in 2017, it was an unprecedented act of desecration, and a terrible harbinger for our nation's conservation heritage that will only become more pronounced and destructive should Donald Trump win re-election in November.
Prior to the sheer awfulness of the Trump administration, no president or administration had ever moved, erased, altered, or so violated the set boundaries of parks or monuments, certainly not to facilitate oil and gas interests, thereby undoing the very reason they were established as monuments in the first place: to protect them from environmental destruction and exploitation. Certainly no one has ever even attempted to do so in a manner as transparent and craven as Trump.
But this is an administration that, in three short years, has:
That's a partial list, of course.
Dating back to the administrations of Theodore Roosevelt and even Abraham Lincoln, the idea of erasing the boundaries of protected places was considered cowardly, reckless, needless, and defiant of well-worn American traditions of conservation, however imperfect they may be from time to time.
One of the more notable, and uglier, exceptions to this was the construction of the O'Shaughnessy Dam along the Tuolumne River at Hetch Hetchy in Yosemite National Park, from 1919 to 1923. Abhorrent as it was, it was voted on in broad daylight as an Act of Congress for maximum culpability, and didn't physically alter the boundaries of Yosemite National Park. But there's no doubt the stress of the Hetch Hetchy tragedy is what killed John Muir.
The lesson was crystal clear: Parks and monuments, intended for the benefit of all Americans, are not placeholders until some other project comes along. The resources protected within them are sacrosanct.
Previously, presidents and politicians understood that areas protected for conservation had often been the subject of frequently intense, long-term campaigns by communities and generations of activists. After all, National Parks and National Monuments don't fall out of the clear blue sky. They are established because committed citizens demand these areas be saved. Long before and long after John Muir, careers and lifetimes have been spent to preserve such places.
Notable instances in California include the campaigns to save surviving ancient Redwoods and end old-growth logging on federal public land, the lengthy effort to preserve the Stanislaus River, the decades-long fight to preserve the wildest expanses of the Mojave Desert, and more recently, the campaign to Save Trestles and stop repeated efforts to build a toll road through the backcountry of San Onofre State Beach along the length of San Mateo Creek.
In erasing the intent, meaning, and boundaries of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante in 2017, the Trump administration deliberately set a terrible, dangerous precedent, and now they're at it in California as oil exploration (!), i.e. the precursor to drilling, begins at Carrizo Plain National Monument along the border of Kern and San Luis Obispo counties, on the southwestern edge of the San Joaquin Valley.
Established by President Bill Clinton in 2001, the monument was intended to preserve the native grasslands of this otherwise unusual depression along the San Andreas Fault in a "land that time forgot" that explodes into extraordinary springtime wildflower shows, and prevent the same kind destruction wrought by the oil extraction that goes on around it for 50 miles in each direction in a network of Chevron and Shell oil and fracking fields, some of which are the size of cities. Now, like other affected National Monuments, Carrizo Plain faces an uncertain future.
Further north in the Central Valley, Giant Sequoia National Monument in Tulare County was similarly put on notice in 2017, and sold out by that county's own board of supervisors, who applauded the move (!) and even asked Trump to shrink the monument. Sickening.
If we hope to preserve our nation's natural heritage and spirit of preservation – to say nothing of the nation itself – then Donald Trump and his destructive anti-leadership must be soundly defeated and driven from office like the environmental and Constitutional criminal he is.
To use an oil and water example, this president and a healthier planet are simply incompatible. As he has demonstrated on far too many occasions when he has turned American against American and neighbor against neighbor, from his Central Park Five accusations to Charlottesville and Lafayette Square, Trump's lifetime of toxic words, deeds, and destructive rhetoric have revealed zero interest or capable curiosity in crafting a more perfect union or bringing our nation together.
Trump is the toxic darkness that seeks to divide, conquer, and pillage. No amount of light or empty riches will ever satisfy his corrupt heart. In any ordinary era, he would've been a disaster. In the midst of actual crises like a pandemic and unchecked foreign interference in our elections, to say nothing of our nation's social reckoning in the wake of George Floyd's murder at the hands of police, Trump is anathema to democratic traditions (see maxim one).
Staring out into the emptiness from the steps of St. John's Church on June 1st, shortly after he and his pack of jackals followed White House security forces that literally gassed and beat the shit out of citizens gathered along the route, waving a Bible around as a cheap prop for all to see, Trump became the living embodiment of Vishnu in his cruelest form. From the Hindu text of the Bhagavad Gita, it was Trump revealing his soulless, blackened heart to our nation and its people: "I am become Death, the shatterer of worlds."
Plenty of us already knew, of course, long before Trump took the oath of office. That toll continues to be played out on our nation, our people, and our future. On refugees jammed into coronavirus-ridden concentration camps, kept in cages on freezing concrete floors. On families willfully and deliberately separated, tossed into the wind for maximum angst and emotional trauma. On black men and women harassed and murdered by police who turn off body cameras and use chemical weapons not even used in warfare.
And on our wild refuges of America, heretofore and hopefully left untouched by today's daily Washington psychodramas. Our long national nightmare of Trump continues.
By Tommy Hough with Andrew Meyer
The landmark Endangered Species Act of 1973 that we celebrate today, and which continues to be the gold standard by which threatened wildlife is preserved, wasn't created in a vacuum.
Rather, it was built upon a pair of previous iterations of endangered species policies from 1966 and 1969, both of which began the process of tying the survival of species facing imminent extinction with curtailing the activity of humans to create room for that species to recover in their natural habitat.
Part of the Endangered Species Preservation Act of 1966 called upon Congress to begin authorizing the Secretary of the Interior to "acquire land or interests in land that would further the conservation of these species." Coming two years after the passage of the Wilderness Act, which similarly directed an activist Congress to submit wilderness considerations to the Interior Department, this progressive approach was, ideally, to provide a direct route for activists to contact the Interior Department via their congressperson.
In response, the Interior Department issued their inaugural list of endangered species in 1967, including the grizzly bear, alligator, manatee, and bald eagle, whose numbers had become so depleted by the widespread use of DDT, hunting, and habitat loss that by 1963 only 487 nesting pairs of Bald Eagles remained in the U.S.
By 1969, a more global, holistic view on endangered species and the interconnectedness of wildlife and habitats was emerging, and the 1969 Endangered Species Conservation Act included, for the first time, threatened mollusks and crustaceans in addition to charismatic vertebrates. The key legal term "based on the best scientific and commercial data," also made its first appearance in the 1969 bill, ensuring that science would have final word on policy.
By 1972, conservation policy was proving popular with voters, and with 18-year olds having been given the right to vote the year before with the passage of the 26th Amendment, President Richard Nixon was eager to win that demographic for his re-election campaign. Declaring that current endangered species policy was unclear and "inadequate," Nixon called for a comprehensive streamlining of policy, setting into motion what became the Endangered Species Act that was signed into law on December 28, 1973.
Since that time, the Endangered Species Act has facilitated the recovery of species large and small, and became a catalyst in the modern conservation movement as a means of preventing mining or logging operations in areas deemed critical habitat for endangered species.
One of the most notable examples of this was the Northern Spotted Owl of Pacific Northwest old-growth forests, which saw its numbers plummet as clearcutting of ancient forests in Washington, Oregon, and California reached a frenzied peak in the mid-1980s. Marbled Murrelets, a small, football-shaped seabird that lives in the crowns of old-growth Douglas firs and cedars, similarly saw its numbers collapse as timber operations wiped out habitat in areas which some logging interests casually described as biological "dead zones."
Using the ESA in this case, extractive uses became far more regulated, setting a precedent that still applies today – that endangered species should not be wiped off the face of the earth by humanity's actions, however intentional or accidental they may be.
Here in San Diego County, we have the responsibility of living with several ESA-listed species, some of which we shared with you this week. Our San Diego National Wildlife Refuge preserves habitat for endangered birds, our regional Multiple Species Conservation Plan (MSCP) was one of the first of its kind and offers a path forward for effective conservation-focused planning, and in tandem with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, our rare birds and other organisms are continuously receiving critical protection at both the state and federal level because of the Endangered Species Act.
We, and our wild neighbors, benefit from the ESA every single day.
California Least Tern photo by Walker Golder, Texas Audubon
By Tommy Hough
It's a great time to be a polluter.
From the moment Donald Trump assumed office in 2017, his cabal quickly became the most anti-environmental administration in modern U.S. history. It was a surprise to no one.
We expected the worst from Trump, and he's delivered. On election night 2016, at the moment the results were clear and the bourbon was beginning to flow, I sat down and wrote my emergency list of "Conservation Points That Must Be Addressed Prior to Inauguration," like National Monument designations, moves to shore up Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) and the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, protection of the Wilderness Act and Antiquities Act, etc.
Boy, was I thinking small.
Trump's team had a game plan, and it was a determined effort to rid every federal agency of every last vestige of competence, fact-based rationale, or anyone who could plausibly say "no," and instead, turn our hallowed insititutions into instruments of lazy absurdity to give credible cover to a radicalized, lawless vision of America in the service of a corrupt banana republic ruling family. They were thinking big, and familiar. The pencilnecks in Washington never saw it coming.
Within days of Trump taking office, the EPA was turned upside down and promoting coal (!) and the benefits of mercury, the hallowed National Park Service was bullied into doctoring inauguration photos, and the Interior Department announced plans to either modify the boundaries or entirely do away with 27 National Monuments, essentially undoing the entire reason National Monuments are established in the first place. Unprecedented you say? Well, the boss said so. Precedent would receive no attention or respect from this administration.
Not that his supporters care. And despite all of Trump's characteristically confused bravado pledging to make America great and revive oil, fracking, and even coal in the face of abundant, rational, and profitable (!) renewable energy opportunities, in the days after the election Trump apologists admonished us that Donald Trump was "an American," wishfully hoped that "nothing will change," and that his administration would follow what Chief Justice John Roberts has called "settled" law.
They've done anything but. Trump's packing of federal courts, and quite possibly, one to two more seats on the Supreme Court should he be reelected, or should a tragedy befall one of the justices between now and January 2021, ensures even more wretched, absurd decisions for decades to come, even if we get lucky and bump Trump and his Republican enablers out of office in November – and assuming they actually leave town in January without tanks in the street.
According to the New York Times, "After three years, the Trump administration has dismantled most major climate and environmental policies." Ever the champion of fossil fuels, Trump has described the countless policies he has done away with as "burdensome" to the fossil fuel industry and other extraction businesses. After all, it's so hard to be a billionaire or a multinational corporation in America.
This breathtaking, ongoing assault on America's environmental heritage includes the undoing of 64 long-standing regulatory policies, with 34 more rollbacks in progress for a total of 98. Presidents from FDR to Obama prided themselves on policy they'd passed. Trump, and his rudderlessly embittered supporters cheer every little thing he tears down. So much for the vision of a guy who made a name for himself building buildings, however tacky they are.
I never imagined Team Trump and their GOP enablers would be able to manage an enforced brain drain and literally gut federal agencies into the ether, but that's what they did. For years Republicans whined that government is inefficient, and government can't possibly be an asset to the citizenry. They were so intent on demonstrating this premise they elected Donald Trump to make sure reality fit the pipe dream. I always figured the cabal would need someone around who had a clue in case of a real emergency. Instead, those few civil servants remaining who have a clue and demonstrate it, like Dr. Anthony Fauci, get death threats from emboldened lunatics instead of thanks.
I never imagined modern, Obama-era agreements to limit poisonous emissions from power plants and ensure more fuel-efficient cars and trucks, all made in conjunction with industry leaders, would be gutted as swiftly as rules pertaining to clean air, water, and toxic chemicals. But of course, failure of imagination is what led to disasters like Pearl Harbor, 9/11, and the COVID-19 pandemic.
The era of modern American conservation can be traced past LBJ and FDR to the hearty, workaholic activism of President Theodore Roosevelt on behalf of wilderness and open space, President Benjamin Harrison's creation of the U.S. Forest Reserve system in 1891 to stop the wanton destruction of western forests, and President Abraham Lincoln's donation of Yosemite Valley to the state of California in 1864 for the purpose of establishing a park in the Sierras.
Trump has put an end to that grand tradition of American conservation, of pride in America's natural heritage. This is a man, after all, who stares at eclipses and is visibly uncomfortable outside. Prior to becoming president, the only time Trump spent outdoors was while walking from his limo to the front door of the building he was entering. Like all of his toxic behavior, Trump projects his contempt and disgust for our natural world onto us all.
To be fair, the golden era of American conservation was already a little wobbly by the time James Watt threw a wrench into it in the early 1980s leading the Reagan administration's Interior Department, but the preservation of the Stanislaus River, 1984 Wilderness Act(s), 1994 California Desert Protection Act, 1994 Northwest Forest Plan (NWFP), and 2001 Roadless Rule were still ahead.
The slope became increasingly slippery during the George W. Bush years, and during the Obama administration the lunatic GOP Congress routinely ran rough drafts of today's conservation rollbacks by the White House, knowing full well Obama would veto them. As I said in presentations at that time, they were just getting the wording right and waiting for a Republican administration.
Ultimately, Obama ended up preserving more federal land than any president before him, so Trump inherited a federal preservation system ripe for exploitation and abuse. As the administration quietly closed off 24 million of acres of public land in the Intermountain West for oil and gas exploration, they loudly announced plans to open some two million acres of conservation lands managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service with the absurd claim Trump was "expanding" areas for hunting and fishing. Wait, he closed off 24 and gave them two, did you see that? The pencilnecks will never understand.
But that's not the only American tradition Trump has desecrated and jettisoned. Children remain in cages. Families legally seeking asylum remain separated. Concentration camps are a reality in our nation. Cruelty has been empowered. Walls are being built, have been built, bulldozed over cactus and sliced across wilderness and protected habitat. Convicted war criminals and federal criminals are pardoned, murdering racists and actual Nazis are "fine people," while honorable naval officers who put their crew's safety ahead of the president's fragile ego are fired. The post office's effectiveness is a problem for those who believe government should not be.
People of color are humiliated and then murdered in full view of their neighbors while jogging in deadly, outrageous "citizen's arrests," or while doing nothing more suspicious than sleeping in their own beds at night. Children are in cages.
Children are in cages.
Tell your friends, tell your family, especially in the states that matter – vote this November. Don't ever accept what's changed, and what's been done to this nation since January 19, 2017. It is not, and will never be acceptable.
Tommy Hough is the co-founder and original president of San Diego County Democrats for Environmental Action. He currently serves as vice president for policy.
By Tommy Hough and Andrew Meyer
All this week the San Diego Audubon Society has been celebrating Endangered Species Day by highlighting five local birds that benefit from federal Endangered Species Act (ESA) protections. So far we've featured the Ridgway's Rail, Least Bell's Vireo, and Western Snowy Plover. Today we're highlighting both the Bald and Golden Eagle — and though they may be seldom seen, both are found here in San Diego County.
While the Bald Eagle stands as one of the great success stories of the Endangered Species Act (it was removed from the endangered list in 1995), Golden Eagles haven't been doing as well in San Diego County. In fact, over the last 100 years we've lost more than half of our county's breeding pairs, almost entirely due to sprawl development cutting into and destroying habitat.
Golden Eagles are larger than Bald Eagles, with an average wingspan of five feet, and record wingspans of eight feet or more. They're dark brown with lighter shades on their wingtips, and yellow feathering at the base of the neck. Found throughout much of the Northern Hemisphere, the Golden Eagle is one of the world's most widely distributed eagle species.
As a result of its reasonably stable numbers nationally, the Golden Eagle has never been listed as endangered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service or other federal agency, although it was initially earmarked for protection from commercial trapping and hunting as part of the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act in 1940.
Despite this early act of preservation, the Golden Eagle saw its numbers decline by mid-century, but it was the Bald Eagle that had become critically endangered by the early 1970s, in part from the widespread use of the "Silent Spring" pesticide DDT, which weakened the integrity of eggs in dozens of bird species.
In many ways, the Bald Eagle's plight enabled passage of the Endangered Species Act in 1973 in order to save the nation's symbol from extinction. Since the ESA's implementation, the Golden Eagle has similarly benefitted from measures to preserve Bald Eagle numbers. Today, the survival of these magnificent raptors relies on preserving the ecosystems and open spaces that they rely upon for roaming, hunting and nesting.
Phil Lambert, who manages the San Diego Audubon Society's Silverwood Wildlife Sanctuary near Lakeside, saw a Bald Eagle two weeks ago circling above the sanctuary's observation area. Flying about 100 ft. above the oak canopy while being attacked by a resident Red Tailed Hawk, this Bald Eagle sighting was only the sixth at Silverwood since 2011. Prior to that, Bald Eagles weren't even on Silverwood's bird list.
Human activity in the form of climate change, poisoning, collisions with buildings, aircraft, and windmills remain serious threats to eagles, but none is more severe than urbanization and habitat destruction, and declines in the availability of the species' natural prey.
Help This Bird: Bald Eagles are one of the nation's great recovery stories, and the ESA quickly demonstrated its value in helping to facilitate the bird's survival. But there are things we can do now, even without an endangered classification, to prevent Golden Eagles from being decimated in the same way Bald Eagles were in the mid-20th century.
Take a moment to let the San Diego County Board of Supervisors know you want protections enacted for Golden Eagle nesting sites on county land, and that you support a strong Multiple Species Conservation Program (MSCP) for North County. Today is the last day to do so.
Let your supervisors know you especially support option five in the stakeholder survey that fulfills the county's General Plan goals, makes good on the planning and development that's been undertaken to date, and is the best option for the species covered under the plan, and for habitat connectivity in North County.
Fun Fact: Golden Eagles have the largest territory of any bird species in San Diego County.
A San Diego broadcast and media personality, Tommy Hough is a wilderness and conservation advocate, communications professional, California Democratic Party delegate, and the co-founder and former president of San Diego County Democrats for Environmental Action. He ran as the endorsed Democratic candidate for San Diego City Council in District 6 in 2018.